Youth Olympics in 2020 aims to overcome Swiss bid skeptics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — After voters in Switzerland rejected three Olympic bids since 2013, the city that's home to the IOC headquarters will still stage a Winter Games in one year's time.

The 2020 Winter Youth Olympics opening next Jan. 9 in Lausanne will end a 72-year wait to see medal events contested in the Alpine heartland nation. More importantly, organizers aim to rebuild Swiss people's faith in the Olympics after the bruising referendum rejections.

"We really wish that Lausanne 2020 is going to create that will, that trust again for the population," organizing committee president Virginie Faivre told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I am sure that the future is bright for Switzerland."

The recent past has been painful for Olympic values in a rich nation steeped in snow and ice sports, which hosted two of the first five Winter Games — at St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948 — yet remarkably none since.

Voters in St. Moritz's home canton (state) of Graubeunden said no to prospective bids in 2013 and 2017. The first rejection came when the 2022 Olympics seemed a lock for upscale neighbors St. Moritz and Davos — though also amid reports of Russia spending $51 billion on Sochi.

A slew of European bids, for Summer and Winter Games, have since ended at the ballot box as the International Olympic Committee fights a public perception of lavish spending and blown budgets.

Switzerland's Sion — a narrow loser to Italy's Turin for 2006 hosting rights — then fell in a referendum last June. Voters defied IOC promises to help cut costs and create no white elephants, with Sion the center of a national plan using venues in Lausanne, St. Moritz and other regions.

"Unfortunately those votes have left a scar, I think, in the heart," acknowledged Faivre, a Lausanne-born freestyle skier who placed fourth in halfpipe at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Faivre hopes to deliver a model for prudent future games planning and cited the "paramount" importance of sticking to a $40 million operational budget for the Youth Olympics, more than half from public funds.

No new construction projects were demanded, and existing venues will also be used five hours away by train in St. Moritz, and nearby in neighboring France.

"We are demonstrating that we do it — in other words, we walk the talk," Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi told the AP.

Though Dubi's visits last year to meet public officials and voters in Sion did not succeed, he believes Switzerland could return to bid when people see real evidence of curbed hosting costs.

"Lausanne 2020 is one milestone but we have many others," he said, citing the 2024 Paris Olympics as a showcase for a new kind of efficiency. "I don't think it's the last chance."

Faivre, meanwhile, thinks two Olympic weeks in Lausanne next January can be "the beginning of a new era for Switzerland."

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